the surprise shrine

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I live in a pretty fun neighborhood. Through sheer luck (and a very kind realtor), I happened upon an extremely reasonable apartment located in one of the wealthiest areas in the region. There are gated residences everywhere, complete with towering hedges to prevent me from perching on their fences with a container of popcorn and staring amiably inside their homes. My neighbors are all very friendly, and when we run into each other we usually trade some “good morning” greetings and sometimes the Japanese equivalent of “have a nice day” (いってらっしゃい). My landlords are, I’ve mentioned, some of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, and their daughter has become like a little sister I never had.

I moved in almost two years ago, and in those two years I’ve done a surprising lack of exploring the neighborhood. I walk to and from the station frequently, and since it’s a twenty minute shuffle down the mountain path and a twenty-five minute hike back up, that’s not an insubstantial amount of neighborhood I’ve seen. I change the route I walk every other day or so because I like new scenery and I loathe little more than routine (onions – I loathe those desperately more), but I haven’t taken much time to just walk around and see what stuff I’ve got to look at around here.

So last year around this time I decided to take one of my days off and dedicate it to exploring. And I found a shrine. A pretty significantly-sized shrine tucked into a mountain crevasse with a freaking waterfall. And I’d just…not seen this for a whole year. To be fair, it was about a three-minute walk down a path I wasn’t sure I was allowed to walk down, but when I got to the shrine it was well-manicured and clearly visited regularly even though no one was there when I arrived.

I sat on a stone rail and had one of those moments where the enormity of living in Japan really soaks in. Most of the time, I see Japan as a modern, first world country with modern, first world conveniences and on the surface, the architecture of concrete and glass and steel everywhere doesn’t feel too different from what I’m used to. But then I’ll find somewhere old, someplace that hasn’t been paved over, someplace that still has the powerful aura of age and reverence, and I’ll realize all over again just where I am.

And that’s a tremendously fun part about living here: you can spend ten years living here enveloped in the city and never even notice some of these things, but if you stray off the beaten path for just an instant, you can stumble on gems. (Like, there’s this waterfall behind Shin-Kobe Station and you can totally go skinny-dipping there.)

I feel a little irresponsible promoting wandering off beaten paths so I’ll add this disclaimer in the unlikely event anyone’s trusting my word on things and following my suggestions: beaten paths are great for one’s personal safety. Yay, beaten paths!

That’s good, right?

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